Introduction: Colors of Security
How does anxiety travel into artifacts of life, people’s ordinary practices, and public policies—policies that can sometimes engulf the world? This book traces fear, from the soup of indistinct but keenly felt worries over one’s own body, to the hard nuts of bombs and bastions. In between, and connecting them up, are smaller-scale sites and responses, like the hardware set up at airports or the barbed wire meant to keep some out or others in. I examine strategies for security against nature as well as against the machinations of human beings and their organizations.
Through various intermediaries of institutions and physical implements, individual angst transmutes into the power of authorities who themselves, of course, come to have an interest in stoking the fears that feed them. Amidst the resulting confusions and ambiguities, we— all of us—are stuck with the goal of distinguishing the sensible from the non-sensible, the potentially constructive from the self-defeating. Bad things do happen, and death is the final outcome no matter what; but the routes to death can be more or less reasonable, more or less decent—a guiding assumption in the chapters that follow. This book is against security as officially practiced, favoring instead meaningful ways to extend lives and provide people with decent experience.
My analytic strategy is threefold. First is the effort to understand this massive social, moral, and political thing called “security,” and what goes on its name. I try to explain where it all comes from, including the shapes and procedures that greet us at a place like the airport. A second goal emerges from the idea that, in the specific and sometimes hell-bent responses to threats, we can see how a particular world works. So studying security is a method, a way to learn how—through people’s scramble for survival, capacity, and position—“normal” life operates. A third focus is practical: I assume the role of consultant, the kind who is